Alaine Ball, MFS

2011 TRI Fellow in Brazil

Traditional Agriculture in Protected Areas: Perception, Meaning, and Boundary-Making in and around the Estação Ecológica de Juréia-Itatins, São Paulo, Brazil


This study explores the current and past practices of traditional agriculture in and around the Estação Ecológica de Juréia-Itatins, a protected area of high conservation value in the Atlantic Forest of coastal São Paulo, Brazil.  Despite living in close proximity to major urban areas such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, traditional peoples known as Caiçaras still practice swidden-fallow agriculture, in which fallow periods exceed cropping periods; however, this practice is sharply declining largely as a result of conservation-related restrictions.The continued practice of swidden-fallow agriculture in contested landscapes is uncertain, and unintended consequences of conservation plans that have excluded people include loss of cultural knowledge that contributes to the resilience of communities. Using a phenomenological approach, the research seeks to discover local meaning in relation to the practice of traditional agriculture and to describe changes in agricultural systems.  Addressing several areas of inquiry—agricultural practices, both past and present; local, government, and environmentalist perception of and connection to the landscape; boundary-making; and cultural and political symbolism of important plant products—the study considers how traditional agricultural practices, cultural identity, and perceptions of conservation and sustainability may be responsive and adaptive to socio-political change.  Qualitative research methods such as semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and transect walks were employed to gather data in two communities inside and two communities outside of the EEJI.


“We Live More Like Indians than Indians”: Traditional Identity, Swidden Agriculture, and Boundary-making in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil